Book marks their latest life path

Curt and Barbara Needham call it reinventing themselves.

Curt, best known for his many years as a developer and Air Force pilot, and Barbara as a longtime commercial real estate broker, have started an Internet marketing company through which they released their first book.

"Charting a Course for My Loved Ones" is an 80-page checklist of the essential items a person should write down for the loved ones they leave behind.

Curt, 79, filled out a five-page checklist years ago for his wife.

"Pilots live and breathe by checklists," Curt said. "I decided to come up with one for Barbara," who is 19 years his junior.

Curt Needham served in the Air Force for nearly 30 years and piloted Air Force 2 from 1970 to 1976, flying such dignitaries as vice presidents Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller and King Hussein of Jordan.

He then branched into real estate development, founding a real estate holding company in Cornelius in 1989 and two years later founding Mooresville-based Bonanza Development with sons Scott and Mark.

The couple's checklist allows loved ones grieving over your loss to know which drawers you stored essential records in, your account numbers and computer passwords and who should get your TV, pets and furniture.

It has you fill out whether you want a funeral or a cremation, which funeral home, which church for the service and what music you want. The checklist lets your family know if you wanted to donate your organs.

"We're trying to take the chaos out of grief," Barbara Needham said.

She has a daughter and two grandsons and still owns and operates Barbara Brown Commercial Properties in Cornelius, which she started in 1999 after years working for Charlotte real estate development firms.

She was the original listing agent for NorthPointe Executive Park in Huntersville and was vice president of sales for office and medical development at First Colony Corp. She served on the board of the Charlotte Region Commercial Board of Realtors for several years and in 1990 helped found Commercial Real Estate Women of Charlotte.

But her passion now, she said, is the couple's Shadowbox Productions LLC and its checklist. The book and CD retail for $49.95. It is available as a CD and as a download on the Internet.

The couple, who have been married since 1997, expanded Curt's original checklist after holding focus groups among their friends.

Barbara also drew from her experiences after the deaths of her sister and mother.

She'd given a shorter version of the checklist to her sister, Judy Gardner of Durham, after Gardner was diagnosed with lung, brain and bone cancer in 2009 and was told by doctors she had two months to live.

Gardner, 67, hadn't filled out the checklist the day she became unresponsive, never again able to move or speak. She died Christmas 2009. Barbara said: "To this day, her children still don't communicate because of the disputes over her possessions and end-of-life issues."

Barbara's mother, Dorothy Devitt of Mooresville, was devastated by her daughter's death, and her health quickly declined. She died on April 22, 2010, but she had filled out the checklist.

"Grief is difficult enough without chaos on top of it," Curt Needham said.

"We wanted to give people a way to care for their survivors by eliminating that chaos with a roadmap of what, where, when and how," Barbara said.